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I Tried the Wim Hof Method and You Should Too

Like many others, quarantine has sent me into a downward spiral of self-care, and sometimes self-neglect, as compensation for the anxiety that accompanies the pandemic. I was an active participant in the bread baking craze, dalgona coffee wildness, and even completed a few Chloe Ting challenges in these last few months, all in an effort to quell that feeling of uncertainty that hasn’t left me alone since March 17th. I see value in any one of these fads, mostly in their ability to distract us and offer a fleeting sense of control in our lives, but one that hasn’t yet manifested into a full fledged trend takes precedence in my mind: The Wim Hof Method. I came across Wim and his eccentric lifestyle in a YouTube video one day, and knew that I had to experience it for myself. Wim Hof’s unique meditation method not only improves mental health, but is scientifically proven to reinforce the immune system. What more could we ask for in the midst of a pandemic?  


Wim Hof, also known as “The Iceman,” is a Dutch extreme athlete who has formulated a three step process to fortify his followers’ immune systems and offer stress relief through meditation. Utilizing a combination of cold therapy, willpower, and breathing techniques, he has broken multiple Guinness World records for withstanding cold temperatures. From staying fully submerged in an ice bath for 112 minutes to walking a marathon(with no training) in a desert without water and then drinking beer to rehydrate, he is the closest thing I’ve seen to a real life superhero. So, I clearly wanted in on the action. 


I know what you’re thinking. Yeah, that’s cool. Good for him, but I don’t know if I’ll be hiking naked up mount everest anytime soon. I thought the same thing, which is why I decided to focus on breathing, the one aspect of his lifestyle that I could participate in from the comfort of my own socially distanced bedroom. 


I cued up Wim Hof’s Beginners Guided Breathing technique on YouTube and laid down on my back, staring at the ceiling above me. After experiences with Tai Chi and hot yoga, I thought myself pretty knowledgeable in the realm of meditation. Or at least proficient. But, this specific method is a lot more physical than I had expected, requiring control over my mind and body in a way that I had never experienced before. It entails multiple rounds of quickly timed deep breaths, followed by periods without breathing for as long as possible. As a singer, the breath support demanded for this process didn’t intimidate me. Boy was I wrong. 


One round in, I was completely winded and frankly drained. The shock that I felt from such a level of difficulty required by some simple breathing exercises filled my mind, keeping me anywhere but in a meditative state. I felt a little bit silly, wondering if I was doing it wrong as my impatience prodded some insecurities. 


But, by round two, I struggled through the quick breaths and emerged into a new state during the hold. I don’t want to sound too dramatic, but lying there as a human being with a plethora of oxygen at my disposal and no urge to breathe it offered a novel sense of freedom. That lack of control handed to me by quarantine had melted away, and I was just there. I wasn’t breathing, but I wasn’t struggling. I was just there. 


Little did I know that this mindset allowed me to hold my breath naturally for 2 minutes and 40 seconds with no discomfort or prior training. An idea that still freaks me out. Immediately, the uneasiness that I felt during the first few quick breaths became a moot point and I was hooked. 


Admittedly, I am not a scientist and do not claim to be, but through my top tier google searching abilities, I have gathered that the key to the bodily impacts is the oxygenation level of the body. 

The fast deep breaths cause a large intake of oxygen, flooding the bloodstream, which is rapidly interrupted. The body undergoes an overflow, alkalizing the blood, instantly followed by a deficit, which acidifies the blood, causing a decrease in the overall blood oxygen saturation. Paired with escalated adrenaline levels, studies have shown that Wim and his followers are able to use this technique to let their mind voluntarily impact their autonomic nervous system. One notable past experiment pertaining to this ability took place at Radboud University in 2014. Twelve people who had studied and practiced the Wim Hof method were injected with an endotoxin, prompting them to trigger an anti-inflammatory response. This study proved that they were able to influence the immune response and control their sympathetic nervous system, providing hope for future scientific breakthroughs involving inflammation and autoimmune diseases. In short, science and meditation combine to show tangible results that strengthen peoples’ immune systems, testing their willpower and mental fortitude. 


I don’t believe in magic, but I do believe in science (even if I can’t fully understand it). So, I have decided to take advantage of this seemingly mystical process and give my mind and body the gift of the Wim Hof method this quarantine. By slowly incorporating it into my routine, I have witnessed first hand the positive effects on my mood, stress levels, and sleep patterns. I’m not asking you to drop everything, move to Holland with Wim, and start taking ice baths every day. But I do encourage you to give his Beginner’s video a go. All valuable self-care requires effort, so we might as well get creative with the type.   


In a time when immunity is so sought after, it is important to do whatever we can to protect ourselves and those around us. Wear your mask, social distance, and maybe even try out this breathing method if you feel so inclined. Goodness knows we have the downtime. 

Serena is a student at UCSC pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Literature with a love for creativity, storytelling, and learning.
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